Snake Race

It’s been a busy week.  My last journal entry was on Oct 9 when I did a terrific 5 x 1500.

The rest of the 9th was a blur.  I worked out, then a day full of meetings, then rushed off to go a wake (One of our best friends lost his brother to a sudden illness), then ate dinner, then to the airport to catch a ten o’clock flight to Geneva.

I slept really well on the flight.  I probably got 5 hours of sleep.  We landed in Zurich and then connected to Geneva, finally getting in around 2pm.  I had meetings all afternoon, and then we went to dinner.  I finally got back to the hotel around 10:30pm and had hoped to get right to bed.  Unfortunately a time critical work issue came up and I spent the next 90 minutes on the phone.

My plan had been to do a short workout in the morning before my 10am flight home, but I decided that sleep was more important.  I slept until 7:30, had a nice breakfast, called an Uber and went to the airport.  The flight home was very uneventful.  I did work most of the way, took a short nap, and then I was home.  The worst part of the whole thing was the traffic home from the airport.

Friday – Oct 12: Drills and a little bit of race pace

My usual taper is to do a shrinking number of 500m pieces over the week before a race, and then just do a warmup on the day before.  This time, I had two complete rest days but lots of inert travel time.  I decided that it would be best to do some work on the day before the race to try to make sure that the race pace strokes felt OK.

I also wanted to do a lot of drill work.  I find it quite calming, and it really engages my brain in the session.  So the plan for the day was to do about 20 minutes of light rowing and drills, then a couple of 2′ race pace pieces, then more drills.

The summary shows the 4 – 1 minute pieces and 2 60 stroke pieces.  Plus a little bonus sprint to the dock at the end.  Notice the difference in power between the first 4 and the last three.  The last three are against the current, so it takes a lot more watts to get the same splits.

          Workout Summary - media/20181012-1145320o.csv
Workout Details

Pretty easy session, only 18 minutes above a <ut2 level.

Then I loaded my boat on my car and went to work.

Saturday – 13 October: The Snake Race

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This may be my only race of the season, and I hadn’t raced since my disappointing outing at last year’s Head of the Charles.  I was nervous as hell before I launched, even though this was a low stakes local race.  My competition was.

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The rowers from Anchorage and Community scratched.  As for the rest.

  • Maldari is a good rower from Lawrence, he’s beaten me and I’ve beaten him in other events, we are about the same speed.
  • Kisarale is a rower from Uganda.  He’s 38, but he was in the 2015 Olympic qualifying regatta for Africa in the 2x.  I’d never met him, but I suspected he was a lot faster than I am.
  • Haddon is a rower in my club.  He was rowing this as a tune up for next weekend when he will be in the HOCR.
  • Krupnick was a 1st boat varsity rower at WPI and graduated in 2017.  He was going to be MUCH faster than me.
  • Byrnes is in the other main club on the lake.  I am usually faster
  • Sturges.  Same story
  • Sontgerath was the guy that I wanted to beat.  I had beaten him in the HOCR in 2015 and then returned the favor last year, beating me pretty badly.  This may sound silly or immature, but I saw the race as between him and me.

The way the bow numbers were handed out, I was starting second to last, and Sontgerath was starting last behind me.  So, it was simple, I just needed to keep my eye on him and maintain the spacing.

Bob and I launched around 8:30 for a 9am start.  We warmed up going down to the start.  For some reason, my speedcoach decided to stop soon after launching and I didn’t notice it until I was getting ready for the start.  So, most of the warmup is missing.

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It was cold and rainy, around 48F.  There was a light and variable wind that seemed to be from  the northwest, which is a cross/head wind.  I only noticed it a couple of times during the race when I felt like I was working harder and the splits slowed down.  I was quite glad to have the power meter.

Anyway, we were all at the start, and so the officials decided to move the start time up a few minutes so we wouldn’t just sit there getting cold and wet in the rain.  We were called up to the start in order and off we went.  The starting line was at the southern end of larger island, right about even with the label “Pinecrest”.  My first target was Sturges.  I saw him off my starboard side.  You go up the western shore of the lake, and soon after the start is a beach that juts out.  I decided that I could pass him to the shore side and still have enough room to steer out from the beach.  It worked out fine and I was well clear of him by the time I steered a bit out from shore for the beach.  The guy who started in from of Sturges was Kisarale, but when I looked around I saw no sign of him.  I did see Byrnes, so he became my next target.  He was also off my starboard side, and we had the narrows coming up.  I just held my line and we slowly moved toward the buoy line that marked the starboard side of the course. I passed him right around the narrows and when I looked around I could spot anyone close enough to focus on.

Now it was time to just row.  This is about where the video picks up.  There is bit more than 1km from the narrows to the bridge.  I was starting to feel the pain, so I started counting strokes.  I got to about 130 when I got to the bridge.  The whole time I was keeping my eyes on Heri (Sontgerath).  At times, he seemed like he was closing the distance, and other times it seemed like I was stretching it out.  Frankly, I didn’t even really remember how far back he was at the start, so I had no clue if I was ahead or not.

From the bridge to the end should be about another 200 strokes.  Which I counted off as I went.  It seemed like it took a lifetime to get from the bridge to the Gazebo.  I thought it was almost another 1000m from the gazebo to the finish and so I just settled in and tried to avoid blowing up while I started scanning for the finish.  I saw it, but in retrospect, I wish I had seen it sooner.  I started my sprint later than I should have.  But I finished strong.  I thought the finish was going to be marked with white buoys.  It was marked by a pair of oranges, which I thought represented the start of a finish chute.  I continued my kick for another 100m beyond the finish to a white buoy.

That extra kick brought be me up to be close enough to chat with Maldari.  Apparetly, he was trying to keep his seperation with me, like I was trying to with Heri.  We had a nice chat about boats and stuff as we paddled to the docks.  They I cooled down from the QRA docks to our club at regatta point.

The results

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Third place, but first place amongst the old guys.  I walked around 10 feet tall the rest of the day.

Here’s a video of the last 9 minutes of the race.  The first 10 minutes were basically useless because of water on the lens.

Looking at the video, as always there is a lot of stuff that I need to work on.  The most obvious is that I have re-established my habit of digging way too deep and rowing over a barrel.  I also need to work on making the body and arms part of the stroke more powerful.

          Workout Summary - media/20181013-1355320o.csv
Workout Details
02|04363|19:36.7|02:14.9|176.1|25.8|170.7|179.0|08.6 - the race.

My pace was 2:14.9 this year.  I did this race in 2015 in similar conditions and my pace was a 2:12.9.  Here is a link.  2015 was my best year at the HOCR.  Comparing the two races, I pushed hard in 2015, with the last 5 minutes above 178 bpm.  My rowing looks very similar.  I am probably about 15 lbs heavier now.  I am ever the optimist and when you put all that together, I come to the conclusion that I can get back to and even exceed where I was in 2015.  As always, it comes down to weight, technique and fitness.

Well, enough for now.  I think I will go do some easy rowing on the dreaded dynamic.






Side Video

These are video snippets from a session done on July 11, 2018.

Things I know

  • I’m overweight
  • My aerobic fitness isn’t as good as I want it to be.
  • I still break my knees too early

The first 5 videos are of drills that I did:

Delayed Feather:

King of the Mountain:

Half Slide:

Open Hands on Recovery

Pause at Body over


Then a couple of steady state rowing

3 minutes of r20

A quick rate ladder from r18 to r24


Gentle comments welcome!

Videos! KOM Drill and Rate Ladders

It seems like so long ago, but it was just last Saturday.  When I went out to Lake Quinsigamond for a outing with my pals at the Worcester Boat Club.

I set up for side video to see how I was doing with the feedback that my coach had provided.  For reference, here is the before video.

The things that I needed to work on.

  • Rigging:
    • Decrease inboard to reduce the amount of overlap at the crossover and give me more room at the finish.  (I went from 89cm to 85cm)
    • Move foot board to stern to give me more distance through the pin for my hips.  (I moved it 2cm to the stern)
    • Move the oarlocks down one spacer so that my hands would be lower during the drive.
  • Technique:
    • Get my heels down quicker in the drive and keep my heels down during recovery
    • Maintain outward pressure on the handles during recovery to get the blades off the water and stay more stable.
    • concentrate on hinging at the hips and keep my back straight.

She recommended that I include the King of the Mountain Drill into my routine.  I’ve do it in a couple of workouts so far.  You can tell from the video that I need to do it more.

Here’s what it is supposed to look like.  Link to Video

Here’s my version.

I don’t know what my problem was, but I was really tense during the drill.  I feel like I did a better job the first time I tried it.

Then it was into the work out.  The assignment was 4 x 12′ rate ladders.  I include 2 videos here.  The first is the last couple of minutes of the r18 section, 4′ at r24 and 2′ at r28.  This one was done with basically no wind.

So, what do I see.  I know it’s tough to make things out because of the position of the sun.

  • The rigging changes are good, and maybe should go even further.  My finishes look a lot better.
  • I am doing a little better in the way my body is hinging, but not much.
  • I seem to go deep at the catch and then come to a good depth in the last 2/3 of the drive.
  • My balance still sucks.

Here’s the second ladder.  Again the end of the r18 bit and all of the 24 and 28.  The sun is now behind the camera so the video quality is better.  The rowing is a bit worse.  There was a bit of head/cross wind and I went a bit too hard in the first one so I was starting to fatigue.

I look a kinda slumpy in this one.  I need to really work on sitting up straight in the boat.

Finally, because I can’t help myself.  Here’s another blooper.  When I started my second ladder, I managed to lose track of where a buoy was in front of me.  By the time I saw it again, I was too close to cleanly steer away from it, so I just braced for impact.

Not my proudest moment.  I guess I should have worn the sunglasses.


Friday: Horror Films. Video Feedback

One of the primary reasons that I wanted to get expert coaching was to make improvements in my rowing technique.  I figure that there are three elements to achieving good boat speed.

  1. Lose weight.  (5 kg is worth a second of pace at least just in reduced displaement)
  2. Improve fitness
  3. Improve technique

I know how to do number 1 and 2.  Those items are determined by the amount of time I have to train, work commitments, willpower and desire.

Technique is tougher.  I know good rowing when I see it, and I can see that there are things wrong with my rowing, but I want some expert guidance to figure out what needs to be fixed first and by what means.

Since I am using a remote coaching arrangement with Marlene Royle, that means that I have to record video and share it.  I did this over the winter and I think I made some good progress on improvement the mechanics of my stroke, especially the recovery.

Now I am back on the water, and before I get too set in my ways, I wanted to take some video in the boat and start fixing stuff.

I have seen all kinds of arrangements to take video.  If you are lucky enough to have a live, local coach, it’s very simple.  They film you from the launch.  Without a coach, you have to figure a way to mount a GoPro or some other camera on the boat.  The easiest is to mount it on the stern deck, but then you don’t get to see a lot of the body work in the stroke.  To get that you need a side view.

To get a side view, I picked up a trick from Larry Tait.  He figured out how to mount an old rigger backstay to the end of his rigger, and then put his gopro on the end of the backstay.  This gets the camera about 6 feet out  to side, and with the wide field of view, that’s more than enough to see the whole stroke.

I described it a bit more detail and included pictures of the setup here.

So, I set myself up and went out for a row.  I had about an hour, so I decided to do a bit of a free form session.  I would do 6 minute easy rate ladders consisting of 3′ @ r18, 2′ @ r20 and 1′ @ r22.  To spice it up a bit, I decided to throw in a few practice starts, just  to see if I remembered how to do them and to see how good my balance was at the catch.

Here’s the whole session

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And here’s the video….

The first video is the first rate ladder.  During the 2′ at r20 I was making my way through the s-turn.

After the first 2 ladders, I reached the dam in Waltham.  I did a set of four starts after I turned around.  A couple of them were OK.

After a couple more ladders, and a few more starts, I did one last short ladder, just 10 strokes at each rate from r18 up to r28.

Looking at the video, I see a whole bunch of issues.

  • Sad to say, I’m heavier and balder than I was the last time I did side video in the boat. :-(.
  • I am not sitting erect enough in the boat, my hips are rocked too far back throughout the stroke.
  • I am not completing my rock over on recovery before I start to slide.
  • Blade depth looks OK to me, although it looks like my hands are arcing up right after the catch and then leveling out.  The last ladder looks worse in terms of “rowing over the barrel”.
  • As you can see, I struggle a bit with balance.  I lightly skim my blades on recovery.
  • Some strokes have a pretty pronounced pause at the finish.

And here, or pure entertainment value is my worst start of the day.  I caught a crab and nearly flipped

The look on my face as it happened was priceless.

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The great thing about rowing is that it keeps you humble!

Feeling a bit better: Feb 8 to Feb 15

Last time I posted, I had decided to take a step back and mix up my training a bit to try to get some momentum back.  The good news is that I think it is working, at least I am feeling a bit more relaxed than I was.

Thursday, Feb 8: Strength Training

  • Full PT Suite
  • Front Squats, KB Swings, Pull ups, Deadlifts

Friday, Feb 9: No Training.  Spent my training time working on my project looking at how aging effects rowing performance by mistake.  I was only going to make one little tweak to my “R” code and when I looked up 90 minutes had gone by.

Saturday, Feb 10: 4 x 20′ / 3′ (On Slides)

I bought a pair of slides a couple years ago and they have been in the gym at work.  I have rarely used them because it’s a pain to set them up and break them down after ech session.  I decided to bring them home and use them on my erg down on the cape.

It was awesome!  I loved the feeling of rowing on slides again.  With the technique stuff I’ve been working on the rowing motion felt really fluid.  Add in the fact that this erg has a core perform seat and it felt very much like real rowing.

My goal was just to get some low intensity meters in, and keep my HR below 155.

Workout Summary - media/20180210-1840300o.csv
Workout Details

I found it very natural to row about 1 spm higher on slides, and I was maybe 1 second slower than on a static machine.  The difference between rowing on slides and rowing on the dynamic is night and day.

Sunday, Feb 11: 8 x (4:30 @ 18, 0:30 @ 30+)/30″ (On Slides)

To follow up on that blissful session I wanted to have a bit more fun on slides.  I really like this 8 x 5′ with 30 sec sprint session.  I’ve been doing this kind of sessions more since reading this book.  The One Minute Workout

It was a blast doing it on slides.  I could rate up very easily, which I can’t seem to do on the dynamic machine.

Workout Summary - media/20180211-1530300o.csv
Workout Details

Another delightful session.  The feeling of rowing on slides was so different that I decided to take a quick video to see how my technique looked.  Spoiler alert:  I have work to do.

Despite my best efforts, I am still not getting my body over before breaking my knees on recovery.

Monday, Feb 12: Strength Training plus 40 minutes Cat VI

Full PT suite.

40′ Cat VI row.  A great row.  Felt very easy.  Nice low HR.

Workout Summary - media/20180212-1305260o.csv
Workout Details

Was able to speed up a bit in the second half because my HR was so low.

Then I did a Strength Session

  • KB Swings 3 x 20 with 16kg
  • Front Squats 4 x 8 with 145 lb
  • Trunk rotation with 50 2 sets of 10 each side
  • Pull ups: 5,4,3,3

Tuesday, Feb 13: 10 x 500/2′ @ 22

PT Suite

Enjoyable little workout.

Workout Summary - media/20180213-1340290o.csv
Workout Details

Wednesday, Feb 14: Strength Training only

I was pressed for time.  Distracted by the Aging related decline project again.

Full PT Suite

Strength Session

  • KB Swings – 3 x 20 with 16kg
  • Front squats – 4 x 8 with 145lbs, 1 x 8 with 165lbs
  • trunk rotations – 2 x 2 x 10 with 50 lbs
  • Pull ups – 5, 4, 3, 3
  • Dead lifts – 5 x 8 x 150lbs

Thursday, Feb 15:  No Training.  Rest Day


Sunday: 3 x 20′ / 3′ Cat VI – Dynamic, plus video

Since I didn’t feel particularly bad yesterday, just really tired, I wasn’t sure if I was better today.  I went to bed at 11 and slept until 9.  When I woke up, I certainly didn’t feel like erging.  So, I hung out, wrote up my journal, did some grocery shopping and some chores around the house.  Finally, around 2, I decided that I should get it done.

The workout on the agenda for today is a regular old 3 or 4 x 20′ / 3′ at Cat VI.  That means rate at 18 and pace between 2:03 and 2:08.  I have been thinking about getting back on the dynamic erg for a while.  Since I am making changes in my stroke, I was wondering if it would be a less unpleasant experience with better technique.

I decided today was a good day to try it out.

Most folks rate up a bit on the dynamic, so I decided r20 was the target instead of r18.   And since I have had such struggles with it, I decided that a target above 2:05, maybe 2:07 might be a good idea.  In any case, I would go by a HR limit.  Keep it at or below 155.

And that’s what I did.  It seems that deleting and reloading painsled fixed my issues, it worked fine today.

          Workout Summary - media/20180128-2010330o.csv
Workout Details

It was a lot more work than on the static, but it felt a bit better better than before.  It was certainly easier to maintain proper form, at least I thought so.  After I finished, I set up to take a short video so I could see I was actually doing the right things.

I watched the video and yes, it looks like I was doing a pretty good job on recovery.  I was a bit more slumped than I should have been, but not so bad.

Here’s the video, judge for your self.

I was interested to compare doing steady state on the dynamic to the static.

  • Power:  About 5 watts lower
  • Rate: 2 beats higher.  Also note how much less consistent my rate is.
  • HR: About 5 beats higher
  • Drive length: 10 cm shorter on the dynamic.  I will have to do a video compare to figure out what’s going on there, but I suspect that I am compressing less at the catch on the dynamic and that’s probably a good thing.
  • Peak force:  just about the same
  • Average force: lower, which makes sense since I am doing less power at a higher rate
  • Peak/avg ratio: follows logically.

Tonight:  I am flying to Korea via Hong Kong.  My flight leaves at about 1:30 am.  I get to Korea Tuesday morning.  I’ll be there through Friday.  More crosstraining!


Friday: I’m about 2 steps into a journey of a 1000 miles

I’m not sure who, but someone said that a journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step.  Well, I contend that the first step is pretty easy.  It’s steps 2 through 500 that are when you start to wonder if the journey is such a good idea.

Today, I was doing a new workout.

Session: 8 x 5’
Rest between: 00:30 easy paddle
Rating/Pace: 4:30 @ Cat VI pace: SR 20 + 00:30 power @ Cat II; SR 30-32

Of course I misread it on my phone and took 1;30 between 5′ chunks.  Oops.

Pace targets were 2:03 to 2:08 for the Cat VI and 1:45 for  the Cat II.

Of highest importance was trying to keep my mind on the technique modifications, but try to do them at r20 and r30-32 instead of at R18, which was basically could be rowed like a pause drill at body over.

I started with the full suite of PT exercises.  SI corrective, quad stretch, foam roll the quads and IT band, the glute thing on swiss ball and the core exercises as well.

Then a 2k warmup with 10 stroke bumps.  Trying to work out how to row at r30 while keeping my knees down longer.

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Then the fun part.

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So, since the whole point was technique.  I did yet another video  this one is 30 seconds of r20, and 30 seconds of r30.

The r20 looks better to me.  Still keeping the knees down, but smoother.  The r30 looks like I am falling back into bad habits.  I can’t tell you how hard I was trying to get my hands away fast and hold back on the slide, but I have to do more work on it.

The picture on the left is at r20.  The one on the right is at r30.

Stay tuned.

Tomorrow:  The hard one.  6 x (3′ @ r28, 7′ @ r18)/1′


Thursday: Glutes! 3 x 20 / 1′

My coach sent me some feedback on the video that I posted.  She was trying to be nice, but it was clear that I am not successfully implementing her suggestions for me.  Here’s exactly what she said…

It is a big shift in rhythm so I understand where you are coming from. But yes, this is a little better but still not quite there. But almost!
Put the focus on keeping your glutes firm and stabilizing the quads- i.e. hold a “dead slide” now wheel movement until your wrists are over your knees.

I have to confess that I was totally mystified about how to keep my glutes firm and my quads stabilized, so I shot back a quick email asking.  and she explained it really well.

Tense your glutes, keep contact with your feet, firm up your quads. That’s all.
Now straighten your arms and move just enough through the pivot to allow your wrists to reach your knees.
Zero in on that position.

So, I messed around with that position a bit. and noticed that consciously tensing my glutes when I swung my body in the drive ended up helping to propel my torso forward on recovery.  I could actually feel a distinct body swing.  Of course, it felt completely foreign to me.

I started with my PT exercises.  Not the full set.  I did the SI corrective, quad stretch, foam rolling, and twisty glute thing on the swiss ball.  I skipped the core stuff.

Then into the erg session.  I had been thinking about it a lot during  the day on Wednesday, and as I drove to work on Thursday morning.   I have taken roughly 3,010,000 strokes over the past 7 years.  About 2.2 million of them have been on the erg.  Expecting to change the way I take a rowing stroke in an instant or without a lot of concentration is not realistic.

I remember a while ago Tiger Woods basically took a season to reengineer his golf swing.  If it took him a while, I guess I should expect that it will take me a while too.

So today, I decided that the number one priority was to take strokes with “perfect form”.  Well, that isn’t exactly right, since I don’t know what perfect form is.  What I actually did was to focus on tensing my glutes as I came into the finish and keep them that way until my arms were out and my body was over.  It was horrific!  Trying to maintain concentration on every stroke was murder.  My rate and pace were all over the place, but I kept at it.  By the time I got to the third 20′ piece, it was feeling a little less alien, but still required a ton of focus.  If I got interested in the podcast in my headphones, I would notice that my knees might pop up early, or my butt was mushy at the finish.

I finished mentally tired and with a sore pair of glutes.  I don’t think that they have worked that hard in a while!

Workout Summary - media/20180111-1345310o.csv
Workout Details

2018-01-11 08.36.30

But the most important thing was technique, so I did another minute at the end to see if it looked any different.

Well, it certainly looks…different.  The knees are staying down, but there is a noticeable hiccup in the recover after I get to body over, and before the seat moves.  I think I need to over correct this way to try to unlearn bad habits?

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Wednesday: 3 x (5 x 500 @ r24 / 1′ ) / 5′

I have been squeezed for time the past two days so I skipped my physio exercises.  Seems that was a mistake!  Last night I started feeling really tight in my left hip and back and this morning, my SI joint was really sore on the left side.

I was a good boy and did all my exercises today, and afterward, it felt a lot looser.  It still gave me a bit of a twinge if I finished with too much layback.  Probably useful since I need to be more consistent and use a bit less layback in general.

The session for today is one that I have done at least 3 times now.  I like it.  At r24, it’s pretty easy to crank out 500s.  They sting a bit at the end, but you can really focus on stroke mechanics because the rate and pace are pretty reasonable.

The target pace for these was 1:52.

To make the setup simple, I programmed this as 500m intervals and 1′ rests.  Then after 5 hard intervals, I did the next one as a very light pause drill, stopping at body over on every stroke and trying to isolate and feel the body recovery.  I ended up cheating myself out of about 20 seconds of the 5 minute rest this way, but there was plenty of recovery time.

I started with a 2k warmup with 4 x 300m or easy and 200m of hard.

          Workout Summary - media/20180110-1436060o.csv
Workout Details

2018-01-10 09.25.47

Then I tightened the foot straps, programmed the PM, and got going.  Not much to report.  I was really trying to hold both rate and pace, while focusing on fast hands away and full body recovery before breaking my knees.  It wasn’t too hard, but I was glad when the 5′ breaks came along.

          Workout Summary - media/20180110-1435320o.csv
Workout Details

Compared to last week.  My HR was running a bit higher today, not sure why.  Last time I opted to push the pace on the last one, I didn’t today.

After I finished, I was curious to see if all the effort I was putting in to technique was actually doing something or if I was just deluding myself.  Somewhere in between, I think.

I still have to hold the knees down longer.  Here’s the offending screen capture.  Arms bent, body halfway there, but knees already up.  Bad Greg!

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Tomorrow:  4×20′ / 3′ Cat VI, r18, 2:05